Pets in the Kitchen Bone Broth

Bone Broth is an all natural, nutrient rich liquid made from the simmering of bones at a low heat over several hours. The broth is loaded with amino acids, vitamins and minerals including Collagen, Glucosamine, Chondroitin and Hyaluronic Acid.


Does your pet have allergies? They may suffer from leaky gut. A syndrome where the holes in the intestines have become bigger allowing toxins to pass through. The collagen from the broth can plug those leaky holes and improve the lining of the digestive tract and keep the gastric mucosa (mucous membrane) in excellent condition to aid digestion.


Bone broth acts as a superior joint supplement as it contains gelatin (the breakdown of collagen), glucosamine and chondroitin.

Gelatin is rich in calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, silicon and sulfur which is good for bone healing, helping take pressure off of aging joints and support healthy mineral density. Glucosamine is a compound naturally found within the cartilage of joints, it acts as a shock absorber and lubricates the joints and allows animals to move around without joint, bone and muscle pains.


Keratin proteins are found in gelatin, bind with hair to strengthen it, repair damage and increase shine.

SKU : 627843906292

Product Code: BTTBBB

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Give the Dog (and cat) a Bone

Perhaps you’ve seen them in your local pet store’s freezer, or you’re looking for an alternative to expensive dental chews with so many unknown ingredients and want to make a healthier change in your pet’s diet. Whatever the reason, we’re here to answer your questions about bones.

Bones are a crucial ingredient in a balanced raw diet. In fact, they make up roughly 10% of Big Country Raw ground meals, working to ensure that your pet has the calcium their body needs for growth and maintenance of bones and teeth. Considered “nature’s toothbrush” by many raw feeders, keeping your pet’s teeth clean can be as simple as offering 2-3 chewing bones per week – but it’s important to pick the bone that’s right for your pet. In addition to their dental benefit, safely chewing on and eating bones can help relieve stress, offer nutrients benefitting joint health, reduce the risk of kidney disease, and offer mental and physical exercise.

Bones for Healthy Teeth…and Organs
Veterinarians are all too familiar with periodontal disease. It often goes unnoticed by pet owners but the plaque that can build up in a pet’s mouth is loaded with bacteria and can have a huge impact on not just their oral health but the proper functioning of some important organs.

The bacterium in plaque make their way through the bloodstream from the mouth into other organs, namely the kidneys, heart, and liver where they can cause diseased organs. The liver and kidney primarily function to filter the blood and the increased bacteria load can cause them to be over-worked and potentially shut down. The same bacteria found in the plaque of your pet’s mouth threatens heart health with diseases like endocarditis and valvular disease.

What Kind of Bones are Good for Pets?
Only raw or dehydrated bones should ever be offered to pets. Bones cooked at high temperatures and smoked bones can splinter and are not easily digested by our pets. Both dogs and cats can benefit from eating bones. Your pet’s age, breed, chewing tendencies, and chew power, will all need to be considered when deciding which bone is best. Bones are fantastic for puppies! Recreational chewing bones can be a great source of exercise and mental stimulation for growing puppies. They also help to alleviate some of the pain from teething and can reduce stress and anxiety as the act of chewing releases calming endorphins. Flat Rib bones can be served frozen, and puppies love them. Some dogs don’t outgrow the need to chew and will enjoy the benefit of bones well into their senior years.

Why Not Feed Dental Chews?
Aptly named, rawhide does start off as an animal ingredient which can fool some pet parents into believing it’s a natural chew. The truth, however, is that rawhide is one of the most dangerous and chemical-filled “treats” you can offer your dog. There is nothing natural about rawhide which is actually a by-product of the leather industry. The process by which the hide of an animal becomes a rawhide dog treat is loaded with carcinogenic, toxic chemicals like bleach, lye, and even glue. Because the FDA doesn’t consider this product to belong in the “food” category, there are virtually no regulations for its production. Scary, right?

Though the benefit of dental chews on dental health seem to remove plaque build-up, the carbohydrates and sugars found in many of these chews are, in fact, part of the problem. It’s a cycle – the carbohydrates create plaque, and in turn, the pet is fed more dental chews. Because they are heavily processed, a time-consuming and expensive endeavour, the ingredient quality is quite low and loaded with preservatives. A common ingredient in many brands are legumes (such as pea flour) that are known to be anti-nutritional – meaning that they are inhibiting the digestion of needed nutrients.

Most concerning though, is the risk of choking or a bowel obstruction. These chews are so tightly compacted that when swallowed in large chunks, they are virtually undigestible. This is not so with raw bones – a carnivore’s body knows how to digest meat and bone.

What are Some of the Lesser-Known Benefits of Feeding Bones?
In addition to calcium, some bones are great sources of other nutrients. Chicken and Duck feet are high in glucosamine and chondroitin, natural components of cartilage, that are known to help rebuild and repair joints. There is approximately 400mg of glucosamine in each chicken or duck foot. Marrow bones, sold in small and large sizes, are a recreational chewing bone that have a ton of health benefits as well. They contain collagen and glycine to promote muscle and skin health as well as glucosamine and chondroitin for joints. Bone marrow is high in fat so should be fed in moderation.

Bone broth should be considered a canine superfood. The nutrients it contains support gut and joint health, and immune and organ system function. Bone broth is made from raw bones, usually those surrounding joints, and simmered for extended periods of time, to make a nutrient-rich, gelatinous broth which can be frozen or jarred and served as a treat or meal topper.

Can You Feed Too Many Bones?
Ideally, you want the bulk of your pet’s meals to be a balanced Big Country Raw diet to ensure all their nutritional needs are being met. We suggest bones can make up 10%, or in some cases up to 20% of their overall diet, depending on the pet and their unique needs. The effect of too much bone (calcium) in the diet, is often seen in the form of constipation or overly dry stool. A normal raw-fed stool is firmer than that of a kibble-fed pet but if the stool is white or your pet is having considerable trouble, it’s important to reduce the bone intake. A couple reduced bone meals (a quail egg to replace some of the meal), some added Beef Organ Blend or Thrive Pumpkin Powder can help get things moving normally again. Every pet’s calcium needs differ, so it’s important to monitor their stools frequently.

What if my Pet has Never Eaten Bones Before?
It’s never too late to reap the rewards that raw bones can offer – and one of the great things is that even kibble-fed pets usually have no trouble enjoying raw bones. Experienced raw feeders will often feed bones frozen (they’re handy to use as a meal if you forget to thaw food the day prior), but if your pet isn’t used to cold food, thawing to room temperature can be helpful to keep them from regurgitating.

If your pet is a very eager eater, or swallows without chewing, holding the bone during chewing is a way to teach them to slow down and savour the chewing experience. For senior pets being introduced to bones, they may lack some of the proper digestive enzymes for a raw bone so Thrive Pro-gut would be a great addition to the meal fed prior to the bone or even sprinkled on the bone directly.

Big Country Raw is excited to offer two new Meal Replacement bones! A Large Turkey Neck and Lamb Necks in a 2lb bag are sure to please your medium to extra-large breed dogs. Add them to your meal rotation for your dog’s maximum satisfaction.

Raw Bones Chart 2023

The above bone suitability chart is intended to be a guide. Your individual pet’s optimal bone choices may be different than suggested.

Bones, in their raw, unprocessed, natural state, whether fed whole or ground up, are essential to a complete and balanced raw diet. They bring more to the health of your pet than just the calcium they provide. Different types and sources of bones offer a unique set of benefits ranging from dental, joint, and even organ health. Bone chewing is beneficial for dogs and cats of all breeds and life stages, particularly puppies. With bones, a little goes a long way, and offering as few as 2-3 raw bones weekly can have positive effects on your pet’s overall health and wellness, both physical and mental. As with any other food choice, it’s important to feed the pet in front of you, being aware of their specific needs and behaviours when choosing an appropriate bone. Remember to always supervise chewing sessions.

A Few Things to Remember
– Always supervise bone chewing sessions: Safe chewing technique for meal replacement bones should involve the use of the whole mouth including back molars, chewing side to side breaking the bone down thoroughly before consuming.
– It is beneficial to train your pet to allow you to take away a bone when it becomes too small and could be a choking hazard.
– When feeding meal replacement bones, be sure to calculate them as part of their daily food allowance.
– A general rule of thumb: Smaller bones for smaller pets, larger bones for larger pets. If in doubt, size up to avoid the risk of choking.
– Bones are a high source of calcium, which has a firming effect on stools. Monitor stools regularly for signs of constipation.
– There are inherent risks to our pets eating bones, or other things such as hard toys, for that matter. Chipped teeth, and intestinal blockages, though uncommon, can happen and require immediate veterinary attention.

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Beef Patella Bone- 2 lb


  • Ontario Sourced Beef
  • Hormone & Antibiotic Free
  • Recreation Chewing Bone
  • Great for cleaning plaque and tartar on teeth
  • Excellent physical and mental exercise for your dog
  • Portion Sized for medium to large breeds


SKU: 627818004213

Product Code: BP2

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Over Supplementing

We often get asked “what supplements should I give my pets?” and while there are a ton of options that can help create the optimal diet for your pet, not all supplements are necessary, and over-supplementing some micronutrients can be as harmful as not getting enough. There are multiple categories of supplements and while some can be offered at any time, with any type of diet, some could do more harm than good in the long term. 

 The easiest way to over-supplement is when your pet is already eating a complete and balanced diet. Any type of food, that is already complete and balanced, does not need extra micronutrients added. For example, adding Thrive Fortify to a Dinner will create an excess in micronutrients such as Vitamin E, iodine, zinc, etc. which in the long term, can create some pretty serious health issues. Excessive Vitamin D can cause symptoms ranging from vomiting and appetite loss to more concerning muscle tremors and seizures. Dogs need these nutrients in their diet, but as the name suggests micronutrients are needed in very small and precise amounts. If you have questions, don’t hesitate to reach out to get some help to figure out if your pet actually needs extra vitamins and minerals. Contrary to what we’re led to believe, more isn’t always better. 

 A relatively common supplement that can cause some confusion is fish oil. While it is hard to overdo Omega-3 fatty acids, there is a certain balance in terms of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA). Usually, the diets we offer our pets are naturally quite high in saturated fat, and PUFA Omega-6, that it is almost impossible to give too much Omega-3, disrupting the omega balance. Some processed diets, that include fish oil in the premix, can even benefit from fresh fish oil added (see our blog about fish oil and its sensitive properties). For most pets, eating only 20% fish in the diet is enough to cover your pet’s Omega-3 requirements. You can do this by offering Fish Dinner twice per week, adding 1 tsp of fish oil per 20 lbs of your pet’s body weight daily, or adding 20% whole fish as a side dish to your non-fish ground raw meal. Every fish option we offer has it’s Omega-3 oil equivalent on the website, for example one Big Country Raw sardine is equivalent to roughly 1 teaspoon of Thrive fish oil. 

 Digestive supplements are common among raw and kibble feeders. They are designed to promote a healthy gut microbiome and digestive tract. But some products in this category can act as symptom inhibitors, or could have the digestive tract come to rely on the supplemental addition in order to properly function, when it should be able to function well on its own. Obviously, this isn’t true of chronic issues, like irritated bowel syndrome (IBS), exocrine pancreas insufficiency (EPI), or chronic anal gland issues. In these situations, daily supplementation with prebiotics and probiotics, digestives enzymes, or dietary fiber might be essential. 

 For most healthy pets, these supplements should be fed as needed, or preventatively, just a couple times per week. If, for example, your dog needs pumpkin added to their diet daily in order to have good stools, keep in mind that the pumpkin could actually be “hiding” a symptom, offering a band-aid type solution. The fiber content will give the stool the correct texture, but there is very probably an underlying issue that should be investigated: possibly a protein intolerance, too much or not enough bone, etc. instead of just feeding pumpkin every day. During specific periods, like food transition, it can be added as a preventative, but once the pet is accustomed to the new diet, it shouldn’t need this type of supplement every day. 

 Feeding probiotics and “live” food like fermented foods are also great to offer occasionally and in moderation.  Just a couple times a week or a couple days in a row and then taking a break, will offer a ton of benefit in supporting the gut microbiome.  Like the other digestive supplements though, pets shouldn’t rely on fermented foods to maintain a healthy gut. 

 There are some supplements that are very beneficial for active pets and can safely be offered daily. Thrive Joint Support and Thrive Green Lipped Mussels are powdered supplements that assist in healing and lubricating active and senior joints and are most effective when offered daily. Additionally, Thrive Pro-Immune, can safely be offered daily to offer natural immune system support. In addition, bone broth is great for supporting both joint and immune system health but has the added benefits of supporting heart health, providing extra moisture, collagen, and best of all, dogs love it. 

 Over supplementing is sometimes driven by the anxiety surrounding the “just in case” mentality. We add extra nutrients, vitamins and minerals just in case the dog needs it. Or we add digestive supplements just in case my dog might get an irritable bowel or just in case some other health issue presents itself. It’s important to remember that feeding whole, raw, fresh, food is already the best prevention possible, and adding extra, intentionally chosen ingredients now and then is great. We shouldn’t overthink it too much, but we need to be mindful that your pet’s bowl should be primarily fresh whole food. Superfoods and supplement powders, frozen mold treats and adds on, should always be a very small portion of the diet, and most should be given only if necessary.  

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Cats and Hydration

Every animal on the planet will drink when thirsty, it’s a survival instinct, and even when they have other options, they often choose random and even disgusting water sources. Dog owners know, they seem to enjoy drinking from the dirtiest pond or puddle. Cats and dogs have this in common: they usually prefer to drink from the toilet instead of their bowl! For dogs it might just be laziness, taking advantage of the closest water source. But for cats, the relationship with water is much more complicated. Cats can be very particular animals. They have preferences about their litter, food, drinking water, quite even possibly its location.  It’s like they believe stagnant, room temperature water will poison them. 

Cats can dehydrate themselves so much and so quickly that it can cause renal (kidney) issues, like stones and crystals and in the more severe cases, renal failure. Living in a constant state of dehydration can also contribute to diabetes and other concerning health issues. Water is essential to maintaining molecular balance in the body such as blood glucose and an ideal urine pH that will prevent stones, crystals, and bacterial infections. Kidneys need water to function properly, and dehydration puts a lot of pressure and stress on renal functions.  

When feeding a dry diet, dehydration can become a very serious and dangerous problem. Their urine can become so concentrated and so alkaline, that stones can form and block their urinary tract – an extremely painful and possibly life-threatening condition. The surgery to remove the stones is also very expensive (we are talking thousands of dollars). 

Because of the important role that water plays in the health of our cats, getting them to drink is crucial. Cats often do not like having their water source near their food, so playing around with the location of the water bowl, is a very simple remedy for a cat that has a preference about bowl placement.  The size and depth of bowl may also be hindering the finicky feline drinker (especially in a multi cat family). Bowls that are deep and have a smaller diameter can result in whisker fatigue, which can affect eating habits as well. Often the only way to find a solution that pleases every cat in the house is trial and error. 

Exceptions exist, but it’s true that most cats will try to avoid stagnant water at all costs, preferring instead to die of dehydration. Bottled water and distilled water, in the same, non-moving bowl are just as stagnant as tap water. If your cat rushes to the faucet for a drink from the stream as you are washing your hands or brushing your teeth, it seems obvious then that the problem is water stagnancy. This makes the solution simple – a fountain bowl. Get the water moving! 

This is Where Raw Comes in…
Cats benefit greatly from eating a raw, high moisture diet. Raw cat food is usually between 60% and 80% moisture which helps ensure proper hydration. A high meat diet also helps reduce pH, while water keeps a healthy pH balance. To increase moisture content even more, some cats enjoy extra water added directly to their food. The more water you are able to add to their food, the less worry there might be that they don’t drink enough from their water bowl. 

True to a cat’s nature, some do not tolerate these “extra water” tricks. Try adding some other options that increase moisture intake. Raw Fermented Goat Milk is an amazing source of nutrients and probiotics, but cats also simply love its smell and taste. Eggs (quail, or chicken) are super nutritious and as an added bonus contain choline which helps to prevent hairballs. Bone broth is another popular option among felines and also brings excellent nutrition. 

For cat owners, it’s important to be attentive to their behaviour as it pertains to their water drinking habits. Rushing to drink from moving water isn’t a cute behaviour – it’s more often a red flag that your cat is dehydrated. It can take a lot of trial and error to find the perfect formula to increase their desire to drink to increase hydration, but needs to be done to ensure that they stay healthy and avoid preventable illness. 

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Pain Management

Pain, it’s something that we never want our pets to experience. However, every pet, at some point in its life, will have pain for one reason or another. Whether it be a minor injury from rough play, surgery, or joint disease, there are natural remedies that can offer some relief or even mitigate the cause of pain in our pets.

Do you ever wonder if your pet is experiencing pain, and you don’t even know it? Although domestic pets have evolved to our lifestyles over hundreds of years, that “survival of the fittest” instinct remains intact. Both dogs and cats can be very good at hiding discomfort. With chronic diseases, such as osteoarthritis, pain develops more over time, so the very subtle changes can often go unnoticed. Cats may start interacting a little less, grooming habits can change, their facial expressions can become different, developing a bit of a “grimace”, or they can become more vocal. Dogs may start to become anxious, breathe a little faster, sleep a bit more or have changes in their appetite, posture, and bathroom habits. Diagnosing pain in pets is one of those times when you really, really wish they could talk!

Many vets will commonly recommend NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), but these medications certainly don’t come without risks. Long-term use can cause kidney and liver damage, digestive upset, and even bleeding ulcers or perforations of the stomach and intestines. Thankfully there are natural aids that can prevent or ease pain in our pets in a more harmonious manner.

Switching to a Raw Diet
For humans, eating highly processed food combined with high carbs and sugar, is linked to many chronic diseases, including inflammation ( , Even the Arthritis Foundation, for Pain Awareness Month, advocates for how much the diet can impact inflammation and pain. The importance of avoiding highly processed food, including overly processed meat and carbs impacts the inflammatory response in the body: like the Maillard reaction. This is a chemical reaction very present in kibble that will create, under heat and high pressure, a complexes molecules made of protein and sugar bound together called Advanced glycation end-products – these molecules are highly unstable, pro-oxidant and can even act as toxins in the body and their impact on inflammation and oxidative stress is well documented (, Since kibble is a mix of carbs and protein, extruded at very high temperature, creating a crispy and brown product, it is as rich as it can be in these highly inflammatory molecules (,

By simply switching from a kibble diet to a raw diet, and eliminating the reaction that creates these harmful end-products, there will be a great reduction of inflammation in the body. In fact, dogs and cats eating a raw diet will excrete less than half of those end-products in their urine, showing the major impact of the processed diet on the absorption of those molecules ( ). Choosing a raw diet that is low in carbs and high in antioxidants, will have an even better impact. Like the Big Country Raw Dinner formulas, rich in high quality meat, combined with superfoods like blueberries and broccoli!

For pets who are already on a raw diet, but experience pain due to aging or injuries, there are some simple and inexpensive food bowl additions that can offer great benefit.

Thrive Joint Support
Thrive Joint Support is a powerful aid, consisting of glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate and MSM. The combination of these three ingredients are well known to help prevent and alleviate pain from joint disease and dysplasia.

Glucosamine is a naturally occurring compound made of glucose and glutamine, that is essential for the maintenance of healthy cartilage and joint function. It stimulates the growth of cartilage cells and is known to aid in joint lubrication increasing comfort and mobility.

Chondroitin is the largest glycosaminoglycan (GAG) found in cartilage. It helps to increase water retention and elasticity in the cartilage, promoting adequate shock absorption and nourishment of the tissues that line the joint. Like glucosamine, it may also inhibit inflammation that can compromise joint health and impair overall pet comfort and mobility.

MSM (Methylsulfonylmethane), can help reduce muscle damage, along with pain and stiffness. MSM can also inhibit inflammatory responses in the body, thereby reducing stress on the immune system. MSM also increases levels of glutathione, an antioxidant that boosts the immune system.

We recommend using Thrive Joint Support for medium to large breed puppies and dogs especially, from 8 weeks and on, to aid in the prevention of joint disease. Maintaining the joints of an active dog is paramount to healthy and pain-free mobility.

Thrive Green Lipped Mussels
Green lipped mussels are a shellfish native to New Zealand, and they get their name from the green edges along their shell. They contain several anti-inflammatory compounds that can help prevent and eliminate pain from conditions like arthritis. Arthritis is commonly recognized and treated in our older dogs, but often overlooked as it develops in young dogs, although it affects 20% of dogs over the age of one year, and 80% of dogs over the age of 8. It also affects up to 90% of cats over the age of 12.

Green lipped mussels are a rich source of omega 3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA) and also contain chondroitin. They are currently the only known source of the omega fatty acid ETA (eicosatetraenoic acid), which binds with cyclooxygenase, an enzyme that causes inflammation. ETA can provide equivalent pain relief to NSAIDs. Green lipped mussels are also a good source of selenium, zinc, copper, and manganese.

Green lipped mussel powder is safe for dogs of all ages, and because of its safety profile, giving green lipped mussels from a young age can be beneficial to maintaining healthy joints and delaying the onset of arthritis. The effects of green lipped mussel on canine osteoarthritis is highly documented, with tons of studies noting its effect on reducing pain in dogs, often in just weeks.


Bone Broth
Bone broth is rich with glycosaminoglycans, such as glucosamine, and abundant in chondroitin and hyaluronic acid. Glycosaminoglycans stimulate cells called fibroblasts, which lay down collagen in the joints, tendons, and ligaments. The best benefit to bone broth is that the glycosaminoglycans are resistant to the harsh acids and pH of the digestive tract and are absorbed in their intact form. Not only is bone broth delicious and extremely palatable, but it’s also a wonderful way to add quality moisture to any type of diet. Bone broth is often fairly thin at room temperature but will thicken when chilled in the fridge due to the amazing properties of the collagen compounds. Bone broth can be drizzled over any meal as is, or frozen into small portions for easy serving as a treat.

Thrive Golden Paste
Turmeric is an ancient Indian spice that has been used for thousands of years for its healing properties. Curcuminoids, which are what gives turmeric its bright yellow colour, are also what is responsible for its reported anti-inflammatory and pain relief properties which it is so loved and known for. Turmeric on its own isn’t easily absorbed, however when made into golden paste, becomes very bioavailable and far more effective for our pets. Golden Paste is best served in small amounts and frequently, so offering daily will offer the most support. For pets that are sensitive to the taste of turmeric, we recommend mixing into meals before serving or freezing in a mold along with something else they love like Goat Milk or Bone Broth as examples.

Omega Oils
You may have heard about fatty acids like omega-3 (ALA, EPA and DHA) and omega-6 being essentials for pets. Dogs and cats are not able to produce these on their own which is why supplementing with a quality source is considered so important for overall health and wellness. Omega 3 and 6 contribute to healthy skin and coat, growth and development including cognitive function, health of joints, mobility, including reducing inflammation.

More precisely, in animal studies, omega 3 polyunsaturated fatty acids reduced the expression of inflammatory markers, cartilage degradation and oxidative stress ( as long as the correct omega 3: omega 6 ratio was maintained (1:5). Knowing that most meat can naturally be as high as 1:30, adding extra high omega 3 ingredients to the diet is essential. In canine trials, adding fish oils to the diet had significantly reduced the symptoms of osteoarthritis pain (

By reducing inflammation in our pet’s joints, we are acting preventatively which is in their best interest, versus waiting to offer support once an issue or injury has occurred. Offering fresh omegas that have been stored properly is always ideal and will be of the greatest benefit.

Raw Bones

Raw meaty bones are excellent for many reasons, but did you know that certain raw bones are wonderful sources of collagen and glucosamine too? Poultry feet such as chicken and duck feet are naturally rich sources of collagen and glucosamine, containing connective tissue. Necks, such as chicken and duck, are also a great resource. Additional meaty bones have a valuable place in the diet but should always be fed in moderation, meaning raw feet and necks should be offered 2-3x per week at most. Overall, a valuable contributing factor to joint health, and an extremely affordable and popular choice to include for our pet’s wellbeing on a regular basis.

Taking the preventative approach, offering a variety of inflammation-reducing additions to the food bowl, can bring well-rounded support, especially in cases where pain is more severe or frequent. Fish oil, for example, will help with reducing inflammation while Joint Support will target pain relief and cushioning of the joints, making them both great daily additives to meal time. Offering this support consistently is another important factor as daily support will be continuous, versus sporadic which will not have the same results. Some pets may find they prefer the taste of green lipped mussels better while others will find Joint Support more palatable with additional pain relief factors. It is important to observe and find what works best for your pet as each individual pet’s needs can vary. For best results, try rotating supportive sources for maximum coverage and comfort. Your pet will thank you!

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Feeding the Canine Athlete

By Julie Lauzon, agr, MSc, Pet Nutrition
(Updated from a previous blog)

There are many sports that we can practice with our dogs. Even if many only practice as weekend warriors, it is possible that your passion brings you and your dog to a more professional level. At this competitive stage, small details will make a difference with regards to muscle strength and endurance of your dog. Just as in human athletes, there are many ways to help your dog perform better, with targeted training and diet, but that’s where the resemblance ends. It should be noted that a dog’s metabolism is very different than ours. From preferred energy source to hydration, adjustments to their diet promoting endurance and muscle growth are very different than in humans.

Key Definitions:
Carbs – More or less complex structures made of glucose
Glucose – Form of sugar used for transport
Glycogen – Glucose storage for animal
ATP – Energy for cells
Glycerol – Part of fat structure (paired with fatty acids)
Aerobic – Need oxygen
Anaerobic – Do not need oxygen
Stamina – Capacity for a prolonged effort
Glucogenic – Use of glucose (from glycogen or protein) to create ATP, can be both aerobic and anaerobic
Ketogenic – Use of fatty acids or protein to create ATP, only aerobic

The Dog’s Muscle Type and Preferred Energy Source
The main difference is due to the type of muscular fiber dogs have, which is different from ours and even from cats! Understanding how those muscle fibers work, what their purpose is, and how they “prefer” to get their energy, will help us optimize the diet. Without going into too much anatomic detail, it is important to know that there are three types of skeletal muscle fiber (used for locomotion). They vary in proportion depending on species. Some, such as dogs, only have two of the three fiber types. Fibers are classified according to their ATP creation preference. ATP stands for adenosine triphosphate and is the energy at a cellular level. As it will be described later, we can ingest energy in different forms that will, under different metabolic pathways, be transformed to ATP so the muscle cells can use it. The first fiber type prefers the use of oxygen to create energy (aerobic). The second type can create energy with or without oxygen (aerobic and anaerobic). Finally, the third type is most efficient in creating energy when there is no oxygen available (anaerobic). The first two types of fiber can use carbs (glucose), fat and protein as their source of energy, while the third type strictly uses what is called a glycolytic pathway. This means it can only use glucose as its energy source.

Dogs do not have the third fiber type, this is one of the major differences from us. This means that all their muscle fibers have a strong aerobic capacity. This will have a major impact on what type of energy source will be preferred for their metabolism. Before going deeper into what muscle uses which energy and why, let’s talk about energy sources. I’m sure that, just like many others, glycerol, glycogen, glucose, etc. all sound the same.

Energy Forms – From the Food to the Muscle Fuel
Back to basics! There are three major nutrients that dogs (and humans) eat, serving as energy sources to the body: carbohydrates (glucose), fat and protein. There is a wide variety of these nutrients, each stored by the body in different forms. For both humans and dogs, the body will store fat as fat, protein as protein or fat, but will not store carbs as carbs. Carbohydrates will be transformed primarily into glycogen for storage as glucose, either in the liver or muscles and all the extra carbs will be stored as fat. The body stores carbs as glycogen, which is a fast energy source. However, glycogen’s storage capacity is quite small compared to fat storage capacity. When glycogen storage is full, the extra glucose is stored as fat for use as a long-term energy source. Glycogen is the glucose storage of animal, which can be compared to starch, starch being the glucose storage of plant.

When there is a high energy demand, the body (for both humans and dogs) will break down glycogen to create the fuel – ATP. Once all the glycogen is used, the body switches to alternative sources of energy. For the human body, this is 100% true. What is also true for the human body is that if you can build and promote glycogen storage, or provide glucose during a physical exercise, you will increase your stamina capacity. If there is more glycogen available for a longer period, your muscles will be able to rely longer on this energy source. Science has shown that these last two affirmations are not true in dogs, as will be explained later.

Now back to energy storage and how the body uses fat and protein as an energy source instead of glycogen. When the body needs energy, the signals also go into the fat and the protein storage. To become an energy source, proteins will be broken down in amino acids and converted to glucose by the liver. Not all amino acids can be converted to glucose – alanine and glutamine are the preferred ones. When energy is created from glucose, either from glycogen storage or protein storage, it is called the glucogenic pathway.

The signal will also reach fat storage, inducing breakdown into two parts: free fatty acids and glycerol. These two components will then travel to the location where energy is required and will be able to generate ATP as well. The metabolic pathway for the creation of energy from free fatty acids and glycerol, is called the ketogenic pathway. The ketogenic pathway requires oxygen, while energy created from glycogen – glucogenic pathway – can be done anaerobically. Fun fact, fat oxidation (ketogenic) can create 3X more energy than glucose oxidation. Some protein can also be involved in the ketogenic pathway, and the two preferred amino acids for this energy conversion are leucine and lysine.

Glycogen is used by anaerobic muscle tissue for a fast and strong contraction. Since the storage of glycogen is limited, this muscle type will lose their energy source quickly. Those muscles are involved in sprints and jumps, but less in endurance exercises, while aerobic muscles can rely on long term energy storage like fat or protein. They will be slower but will be able to work for a long period of time.

It is important to understand energy conversion processes because it will guide us in the specifications of a diet for your furry athlete. We could go even deeper into metabolic pathways, but you understand enough now for the purpose of this article.

Here’s what is important to remember: Carbs in the body will be stored as glycogen, while the extra will be stored as fat. Glycogen is the fastest (most easily accessible) energy source, but the storage is limited. Fat and protein will be stored as they are, efficient long-term energy sources to be used by endurance muscles.

Ideal Proportion of Fat, Protein, and Carbs for the Athlete Dog Diet
There are some very important differences between dogs and humans that we need to take into account. Based on the information provided above, it would be logical to think that dogs will also use all the glycogen available before jumping to fat and protein as energy sources. Therefore, one would assume building glycogen reserves would be a great way to increase the stamina. However, that would be forgetting that the main muscle fibers in dogs are aerobic, and therefore, are naturally more adapted to use protein and fat as energy sources. Studies have shown that at rest, muscles use aerobic energy sources; 20% from free fatty acids and 30% from glucose. When the dog performs physical effort, the proportion of glucose utilization will decrease to 10% and the free fatty acid proportion will rise to 70% of the energy source. This fraction will change with the intensity of the physical effort. If the dog is closer to maximum effort over a short period of time, the utilization of glucose (from glycogen or protein) will increase at the detriment of fat – still on the aerobic pathway. During physical exercise, dogs will rely on an anaerobic source of energy for the first 7 to 15 seconds of effort and will then move to aerobic energy sources after 30 to 60 seconds, even if there is still glycogen available. Therefore, feeding a high carb diet with the purpose of potentially increasing glycogen storage and stamina is not applicable to dogs. In addition, feeding higher fat diets have been proven to spare glycogen storage and improve stamina.

According to the NRC, higher carb diets (over 38% carbs) have also been shown to lower the concentration of red blood cells in the body. Red cells, being the oxygen transporters, means high carb diets can also impact stamina. If there is less oxygen arriving to aerobic muscle, the energy conversion slows down. There are studies that have shown very active dogs, such as sled dogs, can rely 100% on protein as their glucose precursor. The liver will convert certain amino acids to glycogen, making it available as an anaerobic energy source for short, intense physical effort.

To summarize, this doesn’t mean your dog can’t benefit from some carbs in their diet, but the amount and time of feeding is important. More importantly, carbs shouldn’t be added to the detriment of protein and fat. The addition of carbs could help dogs having a hard time building fat storage on protein and fat diets alone.

For dogs doing sprints or acceleration only (maximum effort for a short period of time) here’s what the diet breakdown should look like: minimum 30% of metabolizable energy coming from fat, minimum 24% from protein, and maximum 45% from carbs. For other sport dogs, like hunting, traction or other sports involving more aerobic energy sources, the diet breakdown should be: minimum 50% of the metabolizable energy coming from fat, minimum 35% from protein, and maximum 15% from carbs.

It is also important to consider body condition score and excess weight as a major component in sport performance. Being overweight increases the risk of injuries and joint issues. We now also know that obesity is mainly linked to high sugar diets (glucose and starch) – eating a lot of those carbs increases the secretion of insulin, promoting storage of glucose in fat, decreasing the effect of leptin, the satiety hormones. This is called leptin resistance – the body’s never-ending circle of being hungry and stocking fat as consequence. Feeding a low carb diet to the canine athlete promotes stamina and reduces the risk of obesity.

Time of Feeding
Two other important factors in feeding your canine athlete is time of feeding and hydration. Dogs should never engage in physical activity directly after a meal. In fact, in studies made on sled dogs, results indicated that dogs that fasted but had access to water, performed better than dogs who ate right before the physical activity. Dogs should be fed a very small meal the morning before a physical activity, only if that meal is at least 3-5 hours before the start. If not, then it is better that the dog doesn’t eat at all. Also allow your dog to cool down for a couple of hours before feeding a main meal of the day. Dogs can eat once daily without any issue.

Hydration; Dos and Don’ts
Regarding hydration, it is the complete opposite, and may be the most important part of feeding the canine athlete. According to the few available studies done with sporting dogs, sled dogs that have fasted for several days but are well hydrated perform better than dogs that have eaten their fill the day before but have not drank enough before, during and after physical exercise. This means that all the effort put into the diet and training of dogs can be reduced to nothing by the simple factor of inadequate hydration on the day of performance.

Blood is mostly made up of water. We can therefore say that water is largely responsible for the transportation of red blood cells and therefore oxygen (essential during physical exertion) as well as waste material. Water also plays an essential role in terms of thermoregulation – the body’s ability to regulate its temperature. This is another essential regulatory aspect when practicing a sport since physical effort leads to an increase in body temperature.

Dogs will regulate their temperature through panting and sweat glands in their paw pads and noses. Their loss will mainly be water – not electrolytes like us humans. Feeding electrolytes to dogs that have not lost any through vomiting or diarrhea can cause major damage to renal function long term. According to the NRC, offering solutions containing electrolytes, glucose and protein does not lead to better hydration or performance. These “solutions” can even cause diarrhea in some individuals. Also, according to the NRC, the blood sodium and potassium content remain the same during normal physical effort and increases only during prolonged physical effort. We must therefore avoid providing more. The dog’s saliva composition will increase in sodium, chloride, and magnesium, but the total loss is negligible. Majority of hydration loss will be through the paws, and this loss is only water, so water is the only thing your dog will need!

As it relates to minerals, sporting dogs will benefit from a diet higher in some minerals like calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, as well as B vitamins. In fact, sporting dogs should not be fed “adult” food, as the minimum nutrient requirements are too low to meet their needs. Athlete dogs require a diet closer to the nutrient profile of growing puppies and should be fed an “all life stages” food.

It is also important to note that dogs will need water throughout their physical performance. Do not wait for your dog to be thirsty, because dogs will often feel the need to drink once dehydration is well advanced. At that point, they will drink a huge amount of water potentially creating digestive issues. Water loss during exercise is a continuous process, while many dogs drink water only occasionally. Don’t hesitate to offer water on multiple occasions during physical performance. If needed, add enhancers (that do not contain too many electrolytes), like goat milk, bone broth, or simply drop a couple treats in the bowl!

This article should give you many tools to help increase your dog’s performance this summer in your favourite sports, but don’t hesitate to reach out if you need further support for your canine athlete!

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